This is the season for medleys of familiar tunes, unfamiliar but expressive selections, stand-alone works of beauty and sing-along holiday classics. That combination is what the audience can expect at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 for "Happy Holidays with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra" at The Ritz Theatre in Tiffin.
In its 68th season, this is to be the orchestra's final Christmas concert of the 2012 season in northwest Ohio.
Sandra Clark, who handles publicity and marketing for the group, gave an overview of the program and some background about the musicians. Clark also has played French horn with the symphony for 22 years.
"That's not even close to being long for some of us. We've got a 50-year member in the bass section and a nearly 50-year member in the violin section," Clark said.
The performance at The Ritz is to include predominantly familiar Christmas melodies done in out-of-the ordinary arrangements.
Clark said high-quality arrangers have "dressed up" favorite holiday pieces to give listeners a different experience.
For example, the opening selection is "The First Noel," which most people recognize. Carmen Dragon, conductor and arranger for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in Los Angeles, put together an expanded version.
"It has this feel of Hollywood studio orchestra, movie soundtrack. ... Being a horn player, we have an interesting part. We get the melody right at the beginning, but then we go into an accompaniment that is like church bells," Clark said.
The conductor, Jeffrey Pollock, likes to choose seasonal themes for various segments of the concert.
For a "snow moment," the orchestra plays a short excerpt from a Russian story called "The Snow Maiden." Clark said Pollock is to share the story with the audience to prepare them for the music.
Next, the musicians present an "orchestral showpiece" based on the song "Good King Wenceslas."
"These arrangements really play the orchestra like a virtuoso orchestra. We think of an orchestra as a collection of violins, cellos, woodwinds, percussion and brass, but an arranger will see it as one instrument, almost like an organ," Clark said. "They try to give the listener an enjoyable different experience, especially in a familiar piece, like all the Christmas music we're doing."
Another part of the performance features music devoted to toys, which are a Christmas tradition, especially for young children.
The orchestra is to play a composition from an Italian ballet called "The Magic Toyshop." The story is set in a toymaker's shop in Paris, and the music reflects the kinds of dolls presented to shoppers.
"It's a lovely story, and the music is spectacular," Clark said.
Next is an arrangement of "Greensleeves/What Child Is This?" by Chip Davis, the originator of Manheim Steamroller.
Clark said many people are not aware Davis is a native of Sylvania and a former second bassoonist for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Davis' arrangement includes a flute solo performed by Joel Tse and a harp part played by Nancy Lendrim.
The first half of the program closes with a medley of familiar Christmas carols, but each is crafted in the style of a famous classical composer.
"Sleigh Ride" by a Russian composer opens the second half of the concert, followed by "Wassail Wassail All Over the Tuba." Clark calls this "a fun piece" with a solo by David Saltzman.
"We've been doing this piece many places and it always gets enormous ovation, mostly because the soloist does a wonderful job of showing you what you never knew the tuba could do for about 6 minutes," Clark said.
Another audience favorite is "Christmas Story" by Sean O'Boyle.
Clark said the conductor is to read a story and cue the orchestra for "snippets" of music; however the bars of music are played out of sync with the story to create a humorous effect.
"Every audience we've ever played it for has laughed out loud, uproariously," Clark said.
A sing-along with the audience covers a collection of secular Christmas songs before the concert concludes with a 1940s medley by Leroy Anderson.
Clark said no one has to worry about hearing an abundance of obscure compositions.
Although the list of Christmas music is limited, the conductor tries not to repeat songs from year to year. Different arrangements are chosen to add variety.
"The arrangers have highlighted and enhanced the familiar parts of the music with even more interesting things," Clark said. "They all have a way of showcasing the orchestra in a way that makes you sit forward and listen a little more closely."
With Pollock giving the audience the background on each piece before it is played, the audience can be more involved in the music. Clark said the musicians want people to leave the theater thinking they should go to more orchestra concerts when the opportunity arises.
Tickets ranging from $15-$50 are still available by visiting www.ritztheatre.org or by calling (419) 448-8544. The Ritz is at 30 S. Washington St.